David Lammy has said Robert Buckland rendered his apology following the release of the end-to-end rape review “meaningless” after the Justice Secretary described the target to increase prosecutions to 2016 levels as “constitutionally illiterate”.
Buckland faced MPs this afternoon as he made a statement on the review published last week, in which the target was suggested, after accusing Labour of pursuing “low politics” by challenging him to improve prosecution rates or resign.
Lammy told the Commons that Buckland was right to apologise for record-low levels of rape prosecutions and convictions, but added that “his apology has been made meaningless by his attempt to avoid taking responsibility over the weekend”.
“Rape convictions and prosecutions more than halved in just a few years,” the Shadow Justice Secretary said today. “It’s impossible to separate these appalling statistics from the decade of Conservative cuts that have accompanied them.”
He highlighted that funding to the Ministry of Justice has fallen by 25% since 2010, and pointed out that the Justice Secretary had admitted that the fall in prosecutions and convictions were “self-evidently” connected to the reduction in funding.
Lammy said the review did not go far enough, telling MPs that it outlined “almost no new funding” with most new money allocated for refuge accommodation, which he argued has “nothing to do with increasing rape prosecutions or convictions”.
“It is because of the justice department’s cuts to the courts and legal aid that victims are facing delays. And it’s because of those delays that 44% of rape victims are pulling out of the justice system altogether,” Lammy said.
“In describing such a target is “constitutionally illiterate”, he suggested that the record-low prosecution and conviction rates for rape are out of his hands. This runs counter to his previous apology, in which he took responsibility for them.
“Does the Secretary of State take responsibility for this government hollowing out the justice system, or not? If not, does he intend to take his apology back?
“Does the government intend to meet its target of returning the number of rapists who face justice to 2016 levels or has it done a U-turn and scrapped this target?
“The Secretary of State cannot show disdain for the constitution whenever it suits him and then blame the constitution when he’s trying to defend his own failures. Enough is enough. Will he reverse these failures within a year, or will he resign?”
Following the publication of the end-to-end rape review, the government said it “aims to return the volumes of cases being referred by the police, charged by the Crown Prosecution Service and going to court, to at least 2016 levels”.
Buckland rejected that meeting this target should be linked to his role as the Secretary of State during an interview on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning.
“To in any way suggest that an increase in prosecutions and the bringing of cases should be linked to the fate or otherwise of a politician is constitutionally illiterate, it is dangerous,” he added today. “It is the sort of approach that could lead to allegations of improper pressure to be put upon independent prosecutors.”
The exchange between Lammy and Buckland this afternoon followed the publication of the review last week, which said that only 3% of reported rapes in England and Wales resulted in a prosecution in 2019-20 – down from 13% five years ago.
The report set out plans to pilot videoing victim’s cross-examination earlier in the process and away from the courtroom, and to introduce better data extraction technology to reduce the time that victims are without their phones.
“This review was a real opportunity to improve the criminal justice system for victims of rape, and it has missed that opportunity,” Shadow Solicitor General Ellie Reeves said last week. “The government should urgently introduce Labour’s root and branch reforms to support rape victims, instead of piecemeal pilots and tinkering.”
Labour published its own green paper on how to tackle violence against women and girls last month. Proposals included a new survivor support package to improve victims’ experience in the courts, including fast tracking rape and sexual violence cases, legal help for victims and better training for professionals.